Acclaimed Australian composer Mary Finsterer has received substantial support that will help enable the creation of her new opera, Antarctica. An adjunct professor at the University of Tasmania, she was recently named its College of Arts, Law and Education Creative Fellow. Now, Finsterer’s Fellowship has been augmented by $500,000 in philanthropic support, helping to further her research and composition work over a five-year period.

Mary Finsterer. Photo supplied

The philanthropic gift has provided a foundation of support that will enable a unique opportunity for the composer to develop a five-year research schedule comprising a folio of works which includes the opera, Antarctica. “In economic terms, most people enjoy income security in relation to their work. This is not the case with composers, nor indeed in the wider arts community. This contribution equates to a .55 salary at a professorial level, and as such establishes a reliable basis on which to build. To my knowledge, this type of partnership between a patron of the arts and a university, established for the sole purpose of supporting a substantial body of compositional output, is a first in this country. The University of Tasmania is leading the way. It is my hope that this innovative partnership model will inspire other universities and philanthropists to find heart and follow,” Finsterer said.

Melbourne resident and long-time arts patron Elaine Smith is one of these philanthropists, donating $250,000. “I have had such a fulfilling journey in life, gaining such enjoyment from the arts,” she said. “If I help support and assist a composer to pursue her goals through this fellowship, that means the absolute world to me.”

Finsterer’s new opera draws from literature and mythology, as well as the scientific research that has been conducted in Antarctica. “I have been working closely with scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, researching their findings and studies with the aim of incorporating this in my new opera,” Finsterer said. “I’m excited by this collaboration, as scientists follow a process that combines analytical and creative thought that isn’t far removed from composing in that we are each guided by modes of investigation and interpretation.”

“Having this connection with science will help to envision my opera in a dynamic and fascinating way,” she said. “I intend to create an interdisciplinary work that articulates and integrates science across all of the structural levels of the music composition. Collaborating with scientists from IMAS is intrinsic to this process.”

Antarctica follows Finsterer’s debut opera Biographica, which received its world premiere as part of 2017’s Sydney Festival, performed by Sydney Chamber Opera and Ensemble Offspring. It was named the Vocal/Choral Work of the Year at this year’s Art Music Awards.